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A niqab (Arabic: نِقاب niqāb , "veil" or "mask"; also called a ruband ) is a cloth which covers the face as a part of sartorial hijab. It is worn by some Muslim women in public areas and in front of non-mahram adult males. The niqab is worn in the Arab countries of the Arabian Peninsula such as Saudi Arabia, Yemen, Oman, and the UAE. The niqab is also worn in countries such as Somalia, Syria, Afghanistan, Pakistan, India, Bangladesh as well as some parts of Palestinian-ruled territories, southern provinces of Iran, and additional areas with sizeable Muslim populations. Because of the wide variety of hijab worn in the Muslim world, it can be difficult to definitively distinguish between one type of veil and another. The terms niqab and burqa are often incorrectly used interchangeably; a niqab covers the face while a burqa covers the whole body from the top of the head to the ground. The Quran admonishes Muslim women to dress modestly and cover their private parts.
Women who wear the niqab are often called niqābīah ; this word is used both as a noun and as an adjective. However, the correct form منتقبة muntaqabah / muntaqibah (plural muntaqabāt / muntaqibāt ) as niqābīah is used in a derogatory manner (much as with ḥijābīah versus محجبة muḥajjabah ). Colloquially, women in niqab are called منقبة munaqqabah , with the plural منقبات munaqqabāt . The word niqabi is commonly used in English[by whom?] to refer to a woman who wears a niqab.
It is sometimes alleged that the face-veil was originally part of women's dress among certain classes in the Byzantine Empire and was adopted into Muslim culture during the Arab conquest of the Middle East. However, although Byzantine art before Islam commonly depicts women with veiled heads or covered hair, it does not depict women with veiled faces. In addition, the Greek geographer Strabo, writing in the first century AD, refers to some Persian women veiling their faces;[not in citation given] and the early third-century Christian writer Tertullian clearly refers in his treatise The Veiling of Virgins to some pagan women of "Arabia" wearing a veil that covers not only their head but also the entire face. Clement of Alexandria commends the contemporary use of face coverings. There are also two Biblical references to the employment of covering face veils in Genesis 38.14 and Genesis 24.65, by Tamar and by Rebekah, Jacob and Abraham's daughters-in-law respectively. These primary sources show that some women in Egypt, Arabia, Canaan and Persia veiled their faces long before Islam. In the case of Tamar, the Biblical text,'When Judah saw her, he thought her to be an harlot; because she had covered her face' indicates customary, if not sacral, use of the face veil to accentuate rather than disguise her sexuality.
There is a difference of opinion amongst scholars in Islam as to whether or not covering the face is obligatory (fard). The niqab has continued to arouse debate between Muslim scholars and jurists both past and present concerning whether it is fard (obligatory), mustahabb (recommended/preferable), or cultural.
The modern Salafi movement (with the only exception of Muhammad Nasiruddin al-Albani) state that it is obligatory for a woman to cover her entire body when in public or in presence of non-mahram men. Some interpretations say that a veil is not compulsory in front of blind, asexual or gay men.
Salafi women in several countries, including Saudi Arabia, veil their faces because they believe the face of a woman is considered awrah. Wearing the niqab, however, is not exclusive to the Salafi movement and other Sunni Muslims may regard niqab either as obligatory or as mustahabb (recommended, an additional act of worship).[not in citation given][not in citation given] In the Shi'a Ja'fari school of fiqh, covering the face is not obligatory.
The claimed rationale of the niqab comes from the Qur'an and Hadith. It was known that the wives of the Prophet Muhammad covered themselves around non-mahram men. However the Quran explicitly states that the wives of the Prophet are held to a different standard. It is claimed that under Islam the niqab is a requirement for all women, since womanhood is mentioned along with the wives of Muhammad in the Qur'anic dictat to cover. The following verse from the Qur'an is cited as support for this:
"O Prophet! Tell your wives and your daughters, and the believing women, to draw their cloaks (veils) over their bodies. That will be better that they should be known (as respectable woman) so as not to be annoyed. And Allah is Ever Oft-Forgiving, Most Merciful."[Quran 33:59 (Translated by Ahmed Ali)]
This verse was in response to harassment on the part of the "hypocrites", although it does not clearly refer to covering the face itself.
The hadith (Arabic plural: ahādīth) are narrations originating from the words and deeds of the Islamic prophet Muhammad.
The Arabic word jilbāb is used in the following traditions:
Sheikh Muhammad Sayyid Tantawy, previous dean of Cairo's Al-Azhar University, called full-face veiling a custom that has nothing to do with the Islamic faith. "The niqab is a cultural tradition and has nothing to do with Islam." The decision came from an incident in which he forced a school girl to remove her niqab during a visit to an Al-Azhar school, when Tantawy reportedly said that he would call for an official ban for the face veil in Islamic schools. Tantawy's decision stems from his views that more younger Muslims have lost touch with traditional Islamic scholarship and have come under the influence of extremist imams who have little or no formal training in Islamic scholarship, despite some of the most influential Islamic scholars holding the position that the niqab is from Islam. Islamic Sharia law, according to certain public pundits (e.g., Mudar Zahran) and Islamic scholars, in fact bans women from wearing the niqab in Mecca during worshiping rituals.
In Europe, the niqab is controversial, and it has been banned in public in France and Belgium. Similar to its pre-Islamic use, the use of the niqab has also been described in facilitating prostitution.
There are many styles of niqab and other facial veils worn by Muslim women around the world. The two most common forms are the half niqab and the gulf-style or full niqab.
The half niqab is a simple length of fabric with elastic or ties and is worn around the face. This garment typically leaves the eyes and part of the forehead visible.
The gulf-style or full niqab completely covers the face. It consists of an upper band that is tied around the forehead, together with a long wide piece of fabric which covers the face, leaving an opening for the eyes. Many full niqab have two or more sheer layers attached to the upper band, which can be worn flipped down to cover the eyes or left over the top of the head. Contrary to common belief[according to whom?], eyeveils do not generally restrict vision any more than a dark pair of sunglasses would. While a person looking at a woman wearing a niqab with an eyeveil would not be able to see her eyes, the woman wearing the niqab would be able to see out through the thin fabric.
Other less common and more cultural or national forms of niqab include the Afghan style burqa, a long pleated gown that extends from the head to the feet with a small crocheted grille over the face. The Pak Chador is a relatively new style from Pakistan, which consists of a large triangular scarf with two additional pieces. A thin band on one edge is tied behind the head so as to keep the chador on, and then another larger rectangular piece is attached to one end of the triangle and is worn over the face, and the simple hijāb wrapped, pinned or tied in a certain way so as to cover the wearer's face.
Other common styles of clothing popularly worn with a niqab in Western countries include the khimar, a semi-circular flare of fabric with an opening for the face and a small triangular underscarf. A khimar is usually bust-level or longer, and can also be worn without the niqab. It is considered a fairly easy form of headscarf to wear, as there are no pins or fasteners; it is simply pulled over the head. Gloves are also sometimes worn with the niqab, because many munaqabāt believe no part of the skin should be visible other than the area immediately around the eyes or because they do not want to be put in a position where they would touch the hand of an unrelated man (for instance, when accepting change from a cashier).
The niqab in Egypt has a complex and long history. On 8 October 2009, Egypt's top Islamic school and the world's leading school of Sunni Islam, Al-Azhar, banned the wearing of the niqab in classrooms and dormitories of all its affiliate schools and educational institutes.
The niqab was traditionally worn in Southern Iran from the arrival of Islam until the end of the Qajar era. There were many regional variations of niqab, which were also called ruband or pushiye. Traditionally, Iranian women wore chadors long before Islam arrived.
The 20th century ruler, Reza Shah, banned all variations of face veil in 1936, as incompatible with his modernistic ambitions. Reza Shah ordered the police to arrest women who wore the niqab and to remove their face veils by force. This policy outraged the clerics who believed it was obligatory for women to cover their faces. Many women gathered at the Goharshad Mosque in Mashhad with their faces covered to show their objection to the niqab ban.
Between 1941 and 1979 wearing the niqab was no longer against the law, but it was considered by the government to be a "badge of backwardness." During these years, wearing the niqab and chador became much less common and instead most religious women wore headscarves only. Fashionable hotels and restaurants refused to admit women wearing niqabs. High schools and universities actively discouraged or even banned the niqab, though the headscarf was tolerated.
After the new government of 'Islamic Republic' was established, the niqab was not enforced by officials.
In modern Iran, the wearing of niqab is not common and is only worn by certain ethnic minorities and a minority of Arab Muslims in the southern Iranian coastal cities, such as Bandar Abbas, Minab and Bushehr. Some women in the Arab-populated province of Khuzestan still wear niqab.
Saudi women are not required by a secular law to wear the niqab. However, the niqab is an important part of Saudi culture and in most Saudi cities (including Riyadh, Mecca, Medina, Abha, etc.) the vast majority of women cover their faces. Saudi women are expected to wear a face-veil in public and they may be harassed by the religious police if they do not cover their faces. Dammam and Jeddah, as the most liberal cities of Saudi Arabia, are exceptions.
The Saudi niqab usually leaves a long open slot for the eyes; the slot is held together by a string or narrow strip of cloth. Many also have two or more sheer layers attached to the upper band, which can be worn flipped down to cover the eyes. Although a person looking at a woman wearing a niqab with an eyeveil would not be able to see her eyes, she would still be able to see out through the thin fabric. In 2008, the religious authority in Mecca, Mohammad Habadan called on women to wear veils that reveal only one eye, so that women would not be encouraged to use eye make-up.
According to Saudi Arabia's Shariah law, women's clothing should meet the following conditions:
1,200 niqab-wearing teachers were transferred to administrative duties in the summer of 2010 in Syria because the face veil was undermining the secular policies followed by the state as far as education is concerned. In the near future, other ministers are expected to do the same as Ali Saad, the Syrian Minister of Education. Also, in the summer of 2010, students wearing the Niqab were prohibited from registering for university classes. The ban was associated with a move by the Syrian government to re-affirm Syria's traditional secular atmosphere.
On 6 April 2011 it was reported that teachers would be allowed to once again wear the niqab.
Since antiquity, the Arab tradition of wearing the niqab has been practiced by women living in Yemen. Traditionally, girls begin wearing veils in their teenage years. Acceptance of the niqab is not universal in Yemen. Senior member of the Al-Islah political party, Tawakel Karman, removed her niqab at a human rights conference in 2004 and since then has called for "other women and female activists to take theirs off". Also it depends on lifestyles and was not commonly worn among nomadic and pastoralist tribes as it was incompatible with animal shepherding.
Non-governmental enforcement of niqab is found in many parts of the Muslim world. In Saudi Arabia, all Saudi Muslim women are required to wear the niqab in cities such as Mecca, Medina and Taif. In other cities such as Dammam and Abha, women are not required to wear it by law but it remains de facto obligatory. In southern cities also, most women observe niqab. The Saudi niqab usually leaves a long open slot for the eyes; the slot is held together by a string or narrow strip of cloth. In 2008, the religious authority in Mecca, Mohammad Habadan called on women to wear veils that reveals only one eye, so that women would not be encouraged to use eye makeup.
The niqab is outlawed in Azerbaijan, Tunisia and Turkey, where the overwhelming majority of the population is Muslim. Niqabi women, just like women wearing hijab, cannot work as public servants, neither can they continue studies at schools, including the private schools. Although there is no single law banning niqab at private companies, it would be nearly impossible for a niqabi woman to find work .
In February 2010, an Arab country's unnamed ambassador to Dubai had his marriage annulled after discovering that his bride was cross-eyed and had facial hair. The woman had worn a niqab on the occasions that the couple had met prior to the wedding. The ambassador informed the Sharia court that he had been deliberately deceived by the bride's mother, who had shown him photographs of the bride's sister. He only discovered the problem when he lifted the niqab to kiss his bride. The court annulled the marriage, but refused a claim for compensation.
Sultaana Freeman gained national attention in 2003 when she sued the U.S. state of Florida for the right to wear a niqab for her driver's license photo. However, a Florida appellate court ruled that there was no violation in the state requiring her to show her face to a camera in a private room with only a female employee to take the picture, in exchange for the privilege of driving.
One female, non-Muslim student at Eastern Michigan University spent a semester in 2005 wearing a niqab for a class project (she referred to the face veil as a 'burqa'). Her stated experiences, such as her own feeling as if no one wanted to be near her, led her to assert that conservative Muslim dress is disapproved of in the United States. No reference in the student's project was made to the disapproval or banning of niqab in various Muslim-majority countries.
Some Muslim Palestinian women, particularly students, have worn white niqabs during Arab protest activities relating to the Arab–Israeli conflict. These women have reportedly worn green banners with Arabic messages in them.
In 2006, Female candidates from the Hamas party campaigned during the Palestinian Authority parliamentary elections, wearing niqabs. Since Hamas seized control of Gaza from Fatah during the Battle of Gaza (2007), Muslim women in Gaza have been wearing, or were mandated to wear, niqabs in increasingly large numbers.
Although the burqa is a more emphatic symbol, the niqab has also been prominent in political controversies on Islamic dress in Europe.
On 29 April 2010, the Belgian Chamber of Representatives adopted a law prohibiting people to wear "attire and clothing masking the face in such a way that it impairs them to be recognizable". The penalty for violating this directive can run from up to 14 days imprisonment and a 250 euro fine. Even though there is no direct mention of the burqa or niqab, this decision practically does prohibit its use in public spaces. This new law has spurred a lot of anger amongst members of the traditional Islamist community.
In the United Kingdom, comments by Jack Straw, MP started a national debate over the wearing of the "veil" (niqab), in October 2006. This was further inflamed by extensive media coverage of the case of Aishah Azmi, a teaching assistant in Dewsbury, West Yorkshire, who lost her appeal against suspension from her job for wearing the niqab while teaching English to young children whose first language is different. It was decided that being unable to see her face prevented the children from learning effectively. Azmi argued that it was helping the children understand different people's beliefs.
On 13 July 2010 France's lower house of parliament overwhelmingly approved a ban on wearing burqa-style Islamic veils. The legislation forbids face-covering Muslim veils in all public places in France and calls for fines or citizenship classes, or both. The bill also is aimed at husbands and fathers — anyone convicted of forcing someone else to wear the garb risks a year of prison and a fine, with both penalties doubled if the victim is a minor. In Italy, a law issued in 1975 strictly forbids wearing any dress or supply that could hide the face of a person. Penalties (fines and imprisonment) are provided for such behaviour.
In 2012 in Norway, a professor at the University of Tromsø denied a student's use of niqab in the classroom. The professor claimed that Norway's parliament has granted each teacher the right to deny the use of niqab in his/her classroom.
The niqab in its extreme forms is becoming more common in the US and is often seen in larger cities. In 2002, Sultaana Freeman, (formerly Sandra Keller, who converted to Islam in 1997 when marrying a Muslim man) sued the U.S. state of Florida for the right to wear a niqab for her driver's license photo. However, a Florida appellate court ruled that there was no violation in the state requiring her to show her face to a camera in a private room with only a female employee to take the picture, in exchange for the privilege of driving. The prevailing view in Florida is currently that hiding one's face on a form of photo identification defeats the purpose of having the picture taken, although 15 other states (including Arkansas, California, Idaho, Indiana, Iowa, Kansas, and Louisiana) have provisions that allow for driver's licenses absent of an identifying photograph in order to accommodate individuals who may have a religious reason to not have a photograph taken.
Elections Canada, an independent agency responsible for elections and referendums, stated that Muslim women can cover their faces while voting. The decision was criticized by all major political parties of Canada except the New Democrats who did not oppose this decision.
More recently the Conservative Government has introduced legislation which would bar citizens from voting if they show up at polling stations with a veiled face. This law was proposed in the wake of the Government's recent dispute with Elections Canada, which has refused to bar people with veiled faces from polling places. The niqab became an issue in the 2007 election in Quebec after it became public knowledge that women wearing the niqab were allowed to vote under the same rules as electors who did not present photo ID, namely, by sworn oath in the presence of a third party who could vouch for their identity. The chief electoral officer received an overwhelming number of complaints that this policy was too accommodating of cultural minorities (a major theme in the election), and had to be accompanied by bodyguards due to threatening phone calls. All three major political parties were against the policy, with the Parti Québécois and Action démocratique du Québec vying for position as most opposed. The policy was soon changed to require all voters to show their face, even if they did not carry photo ID. However, Quebec residents who wear the niqab stated that they had no issue with showing their faces for official purposes, such as voting. Salam Elmenyawi of the Muslim Council of Montreal estimated that only 10 to 15 Muslim voters in all of the province wear the niqab, and that since their veils have become controversial, most would probably not vote.
In October 2009, the Muslim Canadian Congress called for a ban on burqa and niqab (though not the hijab), saying that they have "no basis in Islam". Spokesperson Farzana Hassan cited public safety issues, such as identity concealment, as well as gender equality, stating that wearing the burqa and niqab is "a practice that marginalizes women."
In December 2011, Citizenship and Immigration Minister Jason Kenney announced a policy directive that Muslim women must remove niqabs throughout the citizenship ceremony where they declare their Oath of Allegiance.
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